Welcome back, gals and pals, to another Comic Book Wednesday. This week I want to talk about Batwoman #24 and the issues surrounding it. This issue marks the end of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman's run on the book. Many of you will recall the controversy from the beginning of September when Williams and Blackman announced their departure from the book because DC Editorial told them that they could not go through with the planned marriage of Batwoman and her girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer.
The team's original final issue was supposed to be #26, slated to drop in December, but their departure has been moved up to #24. This is a strange choice because it's right in the middle of a story arc, one that will never be properly finished. From what I can tell from Williams' blog, this seems to be a decision made by DC Editorial in order to tie Batwoman into "Zero Year", but it also smacks of bitterness towards Williams and Blackman.
The big showdown between Batwoman and Batman kicks off this issue. And was going to run into the next 2 issues, a real knockdown heavy hitting battle. This issue was only the first part of it.
I’m depressed over this a bit. And frustratingly the issue will give no arc conclusion, or conclusion to our run. We apologize to you readers for that. It wasn’t what we wanted to happen.
Issue 24 was already written and being drawn by the time fallout came from our decision to leave the title. There had already been an issue 25 written by us and turned in, but at this point I don’t think this will ever be published. Issue 26 was to be the final chapter of the arc and is left unwritten by us currently. So DC isn’t publishing the end of the arc. Or at least not in any way we intended. If there is ever an offering of a conclusion to the last 7 months of storytelling, it most likely will be by the hands of others, and we have no idea how exactly that direction will proceed.
The whole Batwoman Marriage controversy has been a mess. First and foremost, I want to make it clear that I do not believe that DC Comics intended the dismissal of Batwoman's marriage to be anti-gay marriage. They made it very clear that they do not want to see any of their character married right now, which fits with the way they had all superhero marriages dissolved at the beginning of the New 52, including Superman and Lois Lane. Until I see direct proof otherwise, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they're not overtly homophobic.
That being said, how they thought people wouldn't perceive it as anti-gay marriage is beyond me.
I think the whole Batwoman controversy reflects heavily on the current state of DC Editorial. Batwoman hasn't exactly been their first controversy since the beginning of the New 52. Topless Robot lists some of the major ones here, but there have been many more minor ones that have greatly upset new fans. So, what's up with DC? Personally, I think a lot of it is that they're making stuff up as they go and there's a great deal of miscommunication between the various pieces that make up DC Comics.
As far as Batwoman goes, if they really wanted to avoid this controversy but keep their uniformity, then why did editorial approve Batwoman proposing to Maggie twice (once in costume, once out of costume), only to then tell everyone that a marriage isn't going to happen? Were creators and editors not explained the "no marriage" rule? Was it even an official rule or kind of an unstated thing that people were just supposed to pick up on? Were they not just paying attention because it wasn't one of the major characters?
Regardless of what caused this snafu, it's clear that what happened to Batwoman is a result of sloppy editing. Once the engagement was set in place, the only sane course of action was to let the marriage proceed. Doubling back an engagement/marriage story that has already been put in place doesn't just come off as homophobic in case, it's also lousy storytelling which hurts the character of Batwoman.
I've long stressed that I feel the best way to diversify comics is to create characters and stories that are really damn good, that people will connect with even if they do not share the race, gender, or sexuality of said character. Batwoman has worked so well because the people who have told her stories (Rucka, Williams, Blackman, and a ton of awesome artists) have deeply cared about her story and making sure that it is told well. Batwoman's sexuality has never been the forefront of her story or identity. Like any real person, it's only a piece of who she is.
People have responded exceedingly well to Batwoman because it is a fantastic book with great characters and a story that flows naturally from issue to issue. By halting the story already in progress, you hurt the character and it's the character that brings real diversity to the DC Universe. You can hold up as many 2-D PoC/female/queer characters as you want, but until they're being used to tell compelling stories that engage readers you don't have diversity, you have tokenism.
DC's decision makes me feel like they care less about telling stories that appeal to a wide audience and more like pushing a conformed image of what the company is and what their superheroes should look like. It seems like they're trying to appeal to this mystical construed demographic of young people who all want the same thing (but are also really 45-year-old men). In terms of Batwoman, they seem to care less about her character and development and more about the fact that she fits in with the larger narrative.
But the thing about superhero comics is that, besides event books, the larger narrative shouldn't be so much about plot points, but about characters. If I'm a big fan of Batwoman, and I go to pick up a different book where she guest stars, and Batwoman is decidedly not acting like Batwoman in order to fit with the plot, then I'm not going to want to read it. However, if the character rings true then I, the reader, will stick with it and then I'll maybe be introduced to some other characters I really like, which will lead to me reading more books. Isn't this what we want?
By disrupting the already established story, DC Editorial is disrupting the character of Batwoman making the book feel less like well-developed storytelling and more like a trending book that has started to overreach it's boundaries.
Comics Alliance's Adam Wheeler wrote a fantastic article about the state of queer characters over at Marvel Comics, just two days before Williams and Blackman announced that they were leaving Batwoman, asking if well-developed LGBT characters are a part of the new status quo or if they're still being treated as trend characters. While it's a different company, the concerns that Wheeler brings up with Marvel can also be brought up for DC.
These characters are currently enjoying a moment in the spotlight, but what if it’s only a passing beat? What if these characters — and their lesbian and bisexual cohort — only exist as a temporary corrective to the medium’s, the genre’s and the publisher’s past shortcomings? What if the desire to make that correction passes, and the gay characters fade away?
What if it’s just a phase?
Like myself, Wheeler doesn't seem to believe that the lack of stability for LGBT characters in comics comes from a place of malice or an anti-gay agenda. Instead he seems to believe that the reason queer characters so often get the shaft is because they are new, and new characters are more disposable than classic characters.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual characters aren’t vulnerable or disposable because they’re LGBT. They’re vulnerable and disposable because they’re relatively new and relatively unimportant to the grand narrative. They’re in the same class as all the other B-list characters, and like those characters their presence in a story is generally tied to an individual author’s affection for them. When that author moves on, the characters get dropped back in the toy chest to wait for someone else to come along and pick them up.
It’s the fact that all LGBT characters belong to this class of disposable characters that’s problematic. That quality of being disposable has also historically been a problem for most non-white characters, most female characters, but there have been exceptions like Black Panther, Storm and Sue Storm, and writers made concerted efforts to raise the profile of characters like Luke Cage and Captain Marvel and integrate them more fully into the grand narrative.
The only solution to that feeling of disposability is for the companies to create support nets for their characters, which would include better marketing for B-D List characters and, most importantly, a really strong editorial team behind them to make sure that the stories are top notch quality in order to keep new readers coming back for more.
DC has proven with the Batwoman controversy that their editorial team is just not on the ball, both with what has already been established in-story and with what their readers want. I don't think a single Batwoman fan said "Yes! We're so happy that Kate and Maggie aren't getting married!" If the readers want to see the conclusion of a story that has been set up for months then why the hell not give it to them? Is Batwoman a character you really want to push, or is she just another trendy character that will be eventually returned to the toy box?
I'm really torn about whether or not I should keep reading Batwoman. I'm a firm believer of voting with my dollar in terms of comic books, and I expressly dislike the recent decisions made by DC Editorial. But if I, and other Batwoman fans, stop reading the book will it just be canceled? Will Batwoman slowly fade into obscurity like other LGBT DC Comics Characters like Scandal Savage or Renee Montoya? Will DC realize a mistake was made or will they just shrug their shoulders and move on to plotting out the next big PR stunt like Villains Month? I wish I didn't feel so uneasy about this.
Right now, I think my plan is to no longer buy Batwoman, which breaks my heart because that will mean that I'll be no longer buying books from DC Comics, the company that gave me my love of superheroes in the first place. I'll flip through the next few issues and see how I feel.
As for Batwoman #24 itself? It was a good issue. It had the great art and layouts we've come to expect from the Williams/Blackman/McCarthy team. The supporting characters on the book all got some really great moments (including an awesome moment from Maggie Sawyer, of course). At the same time, it's not an ending. It's clearly the middle of the story arc. There's no resolution to any of the hard work that Williams and Blackman put in on this book for the past few years, and sadly there never will be.
That's it for this Wednesday, gals and pals. Thoughts on Batwoman and the debacle with DC Editorial? Are any of you regular Batwoman readers? If so, will you be reading past #24, or are you stepping away? Did any of you not want Maggie and Kate to tie the knot?
See you next Comic Book Wednesday!